Private cabs and their battle to win Mumbai's hearts and minds
March 14, 2008 7:25 PM
Neeraj Gupta, MD, V-Link Group, feels that there is a definite
market and demand for quality transport in Mumbai. His company was
launched in April 2007 - Kamlesh Pednekar, DNA.
They are a boon to choking city. So why are private taxi firms struggling in Mumbai?
Remember that day - over a decade ago - when the blue air-conditioned Fiats hit Mumbai's road amid much pomp And celebration? The city gave out a collective sigh of relief. After all, there is nothing like an air-conditioned ride, to beat that clammy clime. Unfortunately, that warm welcoming feeling was quickly dispelled by the cabbies' icy tones.
Mumbaikars using the city's cabs, have no contend with eyebrow-raising meter readings, boorish chauffeurs and loads of attitude. And woe to those who are new to the city, for their lot is far worse that the Mumbaikar.
But every cloud has a silver lining. Mumbai's smog-afflicted streets are bearings witness to another foray into the private taxi market. And this time the venguard comprises Meru, Gold, Priyadarshani and Forsche cabs - the latter two being all-women cabs.
These are not only popular with foreigners visiting the city, but even Mumbaikar's prefer them to their chauffeur- driven luxury cars.
"These days, people flying in from other parts of the country for official purposes, prefer to book these cabs in advance, as it saves a lot of time and money. They do not run the risk of being fleeced by the kaali peeli (black and yellow) taxi chauffeurs," said an official from one of the cab services.
Even the cabs for women by women, are slowly gaining popularity. "We get international lady passengers who prefer overall ambience of the cab. We offer accessories like nail polish, lipstick, and also some women's magazines", said Susiiben Shah of Priyadarshani Taxi, a women only service.
"Also, several BPO customers are our clients. As most of their women employees have to work odd shifts, they find our cabs more convenient", said Shah.
But in spite of the many plusses, these high-end luxury cabs have failed to gain momentum. The reason for this, according to Shah, is that currently it is only thorough word-of-mouth that the companies are garnering any business.
" We have 20 cabs on the street, and get almost 15 calls daily, of which four are serviced,'' she said.
Twenty cabs, however, does not seem to be a sufficient number to cater to one of the largest cities in the world. "Obtaining a license is not the issue. There is a shortage of adequately trained chauffeurs. Being a cab for women by women, we need women who are capable of taking care of passenger, as well as themselves. They are trained in certain martial arts before they actually take to the street," she told DNA.
Its rival - Meru Cabs - launched in April 2007 serves almost 1,200 passengers a day, of which 750 are airport pick-ups.
"We have 350 cabs on the road," said Neeraj Gupta, founder and managing director, V-Link groups, which operates Meru cabs.
Gupta agrees to Shah, when he says that permits re not an issue. "Introducing a cab is not easy as manufacturing a car and putting it up for sale. Formalities like getting the cabs tested with genuine electronic meters, accessories and training chauffeurs is crucial before launching the service," he said.
But it's not all doom and gloom for Gupta: "We feel there is a definite market and demand for quality transport in Mumbai. Fitted with electronic meters and printers, these air-conditioned cabs are based on London and Singapore models, where one can book a service through global call centre."
So although they might not be competing for road space with the black 'n' yellows, one would be remiss to write of this trend...... just yet.